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Potential First-Rounder Adrian Del Castillo Extends Miami Catching Tradition

The University of Miami has a long track record when it comes to producing major league catchers. 

Charles Johnson was picked 28th overall in the 1992 draft and became a four-time Gold Glove winner, two-time all-star and World Series champion with the Marlins. 

Yasmani Grandal went 12th overall in 2010 and has made two National League all-star teams and played in two World Series.

Zack Collins went 10th overall in 2016 and is entering his third season in the big leagues with the White Sox. 

So what might be in store for Adrian Del Castillo, Miami’s next projected first-round catcher?

That all depends on how the 5-foot-11, 210-pound lefthanded hitter swings the bat and continues to progress behind the plate.

“He’s definitely catching better. The offensive side hasn’t been up to par, but it’s also early in the season so he can still catch up,” a major league scout said of Del Castillo, who was hitting .323 with three home runs, 21 RBIs and a .910 OPS through 93 at-bats for the No. 20 Hurricanes.

“It’s nothing specific that’s had a vast improvement, but I think it’s a combination of a lot of things that are better," the scout said. "It’s him understanding more what he needs to do and him being more comfortable.”

In terms of a physical comparison, the scout said Del Castillo reminds him of a lefty version of Paul Lo Duca, a four-time all-star, and he sees hitting elements that resemble Brewers catcher Omar Narvaez. He also said he could see Del Castillo reaching the big leagues within two years of being drafted.

The scout said Del Castillo’s offensive value comes more from being a hard-contact hitter who will consistently drive in runs. While he may not be an elite slugger, Del Castillo has the potential to reach 20-plus home runs per season.

“There’s going to be more of a movement toward guys who can make consistent contact,” the scout said. “Power is still going to be important. Adrian’s value will be greater because of that.

"If you are an organization that is looking for upside more than value now, you might pass up on Adrian. Somebody will take him in the first round, but I don’t know if it will be early, middle or late. That doesn’t change the fact he’s improved. There’s a value you can’t overlook. He doesn’t strike out much. He finds the barrel and he’s a guy who historically has hit. It’s hard to ignore that.”

Del Castillo hasn’t been as prolific at the plate so far as he had been his first two seasons with the Hurricanes.

But scouts aren’t worried about his bat.

“He’s pressing at the plate because he knows he needs to show more,” a scout said. “It’ll drop him a little bit from where he was expected, unless he takes off now in the second half. They’re pitching around him, so he has to look for a certain pitch to drive.”

Ask his coaches at Miami and Del Castillo has all the ingredients needed to become a standout.

“The first time I saw Adrian was at our camp when he was in ninth grade and he already had that swing,” Miami head coach Gino DiMare said. “He’s a guy who's been able to hit from the day he started playing baseball. His strength is hitting the ball all over the field. He’s been a little more pull this year, but he’s gotten stronger and is generating more power.”

Hitting has always seemed to come natural for Del Castillo, who has a bit of an old-school style of batting without gloves and going more by feel at the plate in terms of approach.

“That’s something he picked up from me,” said Del Castillo’s father Carlos, who played high school baseball at Southwest Miami High after emigrating from Cuba via Costa Rica in the early 1980s. “I always had to feel the bat. He’s the same way.”

In high school at Gulliver Prep in Miami, Del Castillo hit a combined 29 home runs from his sophomore to senior seasons. But it was his compact swing and ability to consistently drive the baseball that allowed him to become more than just a power hitter.

“He’s going to have pitches to hit at the next level,” the scout said. “He doesn’t have a weakness as a hitter. It’s a matter of him adapting at the next level.”

Del Castillo was a 36th-round pick of the White Sox in 2018 but chose to attend Miami.

Del Castillo has carried through on his offensive potential in college. As of early April, he was hitting .332 with 17 home runs, 30 doubles, two triples, 108 RBIs and more walks (53) than strikeouts (44) in his three-year career.

“Del’s swing isn’t like Ken Griffey’s or Darryl Strawberry’s, guys who had beautiful swings,” said Miami alum Manny Crespo, who coached Del Castillo at Gulliver. “Those guys were trying to create some lift and get the ball out. Adrian isn’t necessarily trying to do that on every at-bat. His swing is more compact. He’s swinging to hit the ball hard and get a good part of the bat on the ball.”

Hurricanes catching coach Norberto Lopez said Del Castillo’s eyes and natural instincts are a big reason for his advanced hitting tools. Lopez said the Hurricanes work with doctors at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami who conduct eye exams on players to measure specific visual acuity at the plate.

“His ability to fixate on the baseball ranks with some of the best hitters in the big leagues,” Lopez said. “He can really lock in and stay locked in on what he’s seeing on pitches and not what he’s doing.”

Del Castillo began playing catcher when he was 6 years old but has regularly played corner outfield as he has developed. He is only in his first full season playing catcher regularly for the Hurricanes.

And it’s that lack of overall experience playing the position that has raised questions as to whether he will stick there.

“He doesn’t have the plus arm strength that most catchers have, but his accuracy has improved drastically and he’s quicker with his transfers and he’s shown a quicker release,” the scout said.

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Lopez came up with a plan to help Del Castillo hone his skills behind the plate when he first arrived at Miami, which included going to a one-knee stance. This granted him greater mobility and quickness when it came to blocking, receiving and setting up his throws.

“Going to the one-knee is something a lot of catchers are doing in the majors,” Del Castillo said. “You see the ball better from the pitcher and you’re a little bit calmer there. You’re not up on both feet trying to balance and catch a pitch and think about where it’s going to go.”

During his freshman season at Miami in 2019, he made just 12 starts behind the plate.

But Del Castillo gained valuable experience playing catcher in the Cape Cod League as a rising sophomore. He hit .261/.311/.420 with five home runs and 22 RBIs in 138 at-bats in 2019. More importantly, Del Castillo gleaned plenty of knowledge while training under former Team Israel manager Jerry Weinstein while playing for Wareham.

Then the coronavirus pandemic cut short the 2020 season, limiting him to 13 starts at catcher. But the pandemic may have been a blessing in disguise in terms of Del Castillo’s development.

It gave him more time to train last summer with Royals big league catcher Salvador Perez and catching coach Pedro Grifol in Pinecrest, Fla.

There, he also interacted with other major league catchers, such as the Marlins' Jorge Alfaro, and caught major league pitchers who passed through to work out, such as Angels closer Raisel Iglesias.

“It was a good thing because I had a lot of time to work on catching and I tried to get my body ready and physically get a little bit bigger and I definitely did that,” Del Castillo said.

DiMare and Lopez said they have both received praise from umpires after games this season about how much Del Castillo’s receiving skills have improved.

“He’s blocking pitches that in the past would have been wild pitches,” Miami righthander Daniel Federman said. “He’s quick to the ball. Every year that I’ve been throwing to him he’s gotten better. His transfer is much better . . . He’s doing a much better job holding runners. I’ve been working on a slide step in my delivery and I’ve been a little slower to the plate this year, but he’s thrown out a few runners for me.”

Lopez said Del Castillo is converting about 40% of those borderline pitches into strikes this year.

“When he first got here, he couldn’t block especially to his right side,” Lopez said. “He struggled receiving balls to his arm side in high school and blocking. He constantly shifted his body in a certain direction. He struggled with all that. And now he’s completely changed that to become one of the best receivers in the country.

“The one-knee stance allows him to get lower and work underneath the ball, and he can really hide the movement of the baseball into the catch. He has very strong wrists and forearms to hold that pitch when he catches it, allowing him to change it at the same time.”

Lopez said Del Castillo still has room for improvement when it comes to his accuracy and throws to second base.

“I wish we would have had more time to improve his arm strength, because I think there’s more in there,” Lopez said. “His transfer and his footwork is really good. It’s more because he played so many positions, it’s teaching him to throw from a certain angle as a catcher. That takes time, but I think that’s something he will improve a lot in the minor leagues."

Though pitching coaches call the pitches at the college level, Del Castillo is already learning about what it takes to manage a pitching staff and be a leader on the field, supporting his pitchers.

Del Castillo is heavily involved in game-planning for opponents and scouting opposing pitchers, according to DiMare.

“Guys learn how to call games, but they’re learning as they listen and go through scouting reports and study other pitchers even though us coaches are calling the pitches,” DiMare said.

“He’s just scratching the surface of what he can do behind the plate.”

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